Thora SilverthorneThora Silverthorne was born at Alma Street, Abertillery, on 25 November 1910, one of the many children of George Richard Silverthorne a coal hewer and his wife Sarah (nee Boyt). George Richard Silverthorne was an active member of the South Wales Miners Federation and a founder member of the Abertillery branch of the Communist Party of Great Britain, he worked at both the Arael Griffin and Vivian collieries in the town.
Thora attended the Blaenau Gwent Baptist Chapel Sunday School and was a member of the choir, which gave Thora a life long love of music, she initially attended school at Nantyglo prior to passing a scholarship before her eleventh birthday to attend the Abertillery Grammar School.
Her childhood, like so many in the South Wales Valleys, was overcast with poverty, however Thora was always quick to point to "richness of the working class life in Abertillery" and the working class solidarity, describing her childhood as very happy. One of her memories was of the feeding centre for the miners during the 1921 miners strike. Thora joined the Young Communist League at the time of the 1926 General Strike, and chaired many meetings at the institute including those addressed by Arthur Homer the great communist miners leader, "everyone talked politics in Abertillery" stated Thora. However, her childhood was turned upside down when her mother died suddenly in August 1927 at the age of 45.
After the death of her mother, Thora moved to England where she worked as a nanny to Somerville Hastings, who was the Member of Parliament for Reading. Hastings was also the founder and president of the Socialist Medical Association and he encouraged her to train as a nurse at the Radcliffe Infirmary in Oxford, where her sister Olive was already a senior nurse. Thora rejoined the Communist Party under the leadership of Harry Waterhouse, making lasting friendships with leading communists, such as historians Christopher Hill and Chris Thorneycroft. Silverthorne was one of a team of medical and nursing staff from Oxford who attended to the needs of the many hunger marches (many from Wales) that passed through the city; many were in poor health, particularly their feet. After her qualification Silverthorne moved to a sister's position at the Hammersmith Hospital, London, teaming up with Dr. Charles Brook of the Socialist Medical association, and his nursing wife Iris.
On the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War it was decided to form a Spanish Medical Aid Committee and Thora keen to help volunteered her services. She was democratically elected Matron of a 36-bedded, British Hospital, a primitive farmhouse in Granen, near Huesca, Aragon. Although the conditions resembled that of World War One, Thora and Dr. Alexander Tudor Hart turned the hospital into a model of efficiency. The 14-hour shifts and stress took its toll on Thora's health and one of the British International Brigade casualties was her close friend Michael Livesay who died in her arms in 1937.
Whilst in Spain Thora began an affair with Dr. Kenneth Sinclair Loutit and she returned to England to marry him and set up home at 12 Great Ormond Street. Loutit helped to establish the Finsbury Health Centre in 1938 but the marriage was not a success and ended in divorce with Thora moving to High Wycombe. Thora continued to help raise money for Spain and was on Victoria Station to welcome the painter Picasso from the train when he arrived in London. Thora then became sub editor of a publication called Nursing Illustrated, the pay and conditions of nurses forced her to help establish the first union of nurses, the National Association of Nurses in 1937, much to the disapproval of the nursing hierarchy and the establishment. The National Association of Nurses was eventually transferred to NUPE led by another Abertillery native Bryn Roberts, who Thora greatly admired.
After the Second World War Thora became Assistant Secretary of the Socialist Medical Association, working to establish the National Health Service, which was achieved on 05 July1945, also meeting both Clement Atllee and Aneurin Bevan to discuss the SMA plans.
In 1946 Thora married Nares Craig from Clitheroe, Lancashire, a fellow communist party member, engineer and architect, (related to Lord Craigavon). Thora enjoyed a long and happy marriage to Nares Craig, and their efforts to support those in trouble were unremitting. In 1968 their daughter Lucy was one of the Guildford Art School students sitting in to protest at the quality of education being offered by Surrey County Council, then dominated by city men and retired senior army officers. Thora and Nares threw their considerable intellectual and practical weight behind the students and the seven lecturers sacked for supporting them; three years later the lecturers won reinstatement. Thora became a full time official for the Civil Service Clerical Association and on her retirement moved to Llynoes, Powys, for 25 years, where Clive Jenkins and Frank Cousins were regular visitors. She returned to London and suffered with Alzheimer's disease until her death.
Thora Silverthorne died on 17 January 1999 and her service was held at Marleybone cemetery on 25 January, the coffin being draped with the International Brigade Banner. She was survived by her husband Nares Craig, (1917-2012) and their children Jonathan, Lucy and Tina.
Thora at the unveiling of the Spanish Ciil War Memorial in Reading in 1990
Thora with Rodney Bickerstaffe at the House of Commons in 1995
Thora's Spanish Republican Army 14th International Brigade Identity Card, with her father's name as next of kin
Thora SilverthorneGeorge Richard Silverthore and Sarah Boyt married on 17 May 1902
1911 Census - 164 Alma Street, Abertlliery.
George Richard Silverthorne - 31
Sarah (Boyt) Silverthorne - 29
Ivy Silverthorne - 6
Valleta Silverthorne - 5
Wesley Roy Silverthorne - 2
Thora Silverthorne - 4 months
Siblings not shown
Blaenau Gwent Cemetery
Sarah Boyt Silverthorne - death registered 03 August 1927 - age 45 - 170 Alma Street.
Eric Boyt Siverthorne - death registered 09 December 1920 - age 3 - !70 Alma Street.
There are plenty of online references for Thora Silverthorne, but would recommend, - Nares Craig - Memoirs of a Thirties Dissident - Chapter 9.
An estimated 300 people from Wales enlisted in the International Brigades, fighting Franco in Spain from 1936-39. Of the battalion's 170 Welsh volunteers, 116 were miners, one in five was married and the average age was over 30. The South Wales miners provided the largest regional group in the British battalion.
The Blaenau Gwent and Rhymney men who
served or made a significant contribution to the
International Brigade were James Brewer
(Rhymney), Leslie Brickwell (Tredegar), Robert
Cox (Sirhowy), Ivor Gale (Abertillery),
Bedlington Jones: (Tredegar), Clarence Lloyd
(Cwmtillery), Harold Lloyd (Cwmtillery),
William Nash (Nantyglo), Philip Phillips
(Tredegar), Bertram Vranch (Abertillery), Terry
Badem-Skinner (Tredegar), P Abraham (Bryn-
mawr) and Bob Jones (Tredegar).
Ivor J Gale: From Abertillery, arrived in the spring of 1937. Served with the British Battalion at Brunete. Repatriated to the UK in June 1938.
Clarence Lloyd: Born 1907, Cwmtillery. 88 Penyboat Road. Miner. Member of the ILP and CPGB.
Harold Lloyd: Born 1897, Cwmtillery. 88 Penyboat Road. Miner and boot repairer. Member of the CPGB. Entered the IB on 5/05/1937. Served from then until repatriation sometime in 1938.
Bertram Vranch: Born 1906, Abertillery. Two Addresses listed: 1 Bishop Street and 23 Evelyn Street, Abertillery. Miner. Member of both Labour Party and the CPGB. Entered the IB on 28/04/1937. Repatriated to the UK in December 1938.